The Werewolves' Story

Healer and Hunter: Chapter Nineteen


Ronan should have guessed that something was wrong when Zzandoren assured him, just a hair too quickly, that he didn't mind if Ronan went out with Thonyn and Rythri for a hunting lesson. The priest didn't really care for hunting, even in wolf form-- reminded him of the Hunter, maybe-- so he assumed he'd just withdraw from the back of his mind and entertain himself for a while, as he did whenever one or the other wanted privacy. Ronan should have guessed that something was wrong when he didn't do so, but he was so bored with the inside of the temple that he didn't bother to think about it.

It didn't take as long as he'd expected to get used to Zzandoren's presence in his head. Once Zzandoren figured out how to just listen instead of needing Ronan to narrate everything he was doing, it was much better. Whenever he started getting too irritable, restless, or volatile, Ronan shoved him out and ignored the seething at the other end of their link. Better that than he and Ronan actually get into a telepathic fight that could easily lead to a loss of control that neither of them wanted. After four days of that kind of behavior, Zzandoren had gotten to the point that being shoved out was more like a splash of cold water on his temper than a fan to its flames, and he took a couple hours to meditate, calm himself down, and come back contrite when he felt able. Ronan felt he was making progress, and even allowed himself to be a little proud of him.

Though he really should have seen what was coming and nipped it in the bud when he had the chance.

Zzandoren's attentiveness in the back of his thoughts was nothing new, hunting lesson or not, so he paid it no mind, more interested in absorbing what Rythri and Thonyn were grudgingly sharing with him and blocking out the chill, as it had snowed lightly the night before. Rythri still didn't like him much-- well, the feeling was mutual, so he didn't blame him-- and though Thonyn had finally mellowed a little about his choice of Zzandoren over the past few days, he still didn't entirely approve of her choice, so they still didn't exactly get along. He suspected she resented his presence in hunting lessons with her bond the same way he resented hers in combat lessons with his. Zzandoren was usually more patient with Thonyn than Rythri was with Ronan, but when in teaching mode Rythri did his best to keep his own temper in check, if just for Zzandoren's sake.

::He'll get over it,:: Zzandoren commented distractedly, most of his attention focused on the woods around them. ::Just give him some time.::

::I've given him plenty of time,:: Ronan sent back dismissively. ::If he hasn't changed his mind by now, he's not going to.::

The priest didn't answer, but Ronan felt a brief surge of annoyance that he guessed was aimed at him. To his surprise, it was suppressed before he could consider forcing Zzandoren out to collect himself. That seemed to be a good sign, at least, that maybe he didn't need to be disconnected to realize when he was being irrational now, so Ronan focused on the stalking that Rythri and Thonyn were leading him on. For all his irritating qualities, Rythri really was a good tracker, and seemed to have a good mind for anticipating quarry: Ronan hoped he actually managed to learn something, instead of being left out just enough to make things difficult.

::Let me know if that happens,:: Zzandoren interrupted again, sounding a little like he was growling. ::I teach you and Thonyn equally; Rythri has no business showing favoritism.::

::Would you stop talking?:: Ronan exclaimed, frustrated by the further interruptions. ::I'm trying to pay attention!::

Again Zzandoren subsided, with another swell of annoyance, but this time Ronan let it go because they'd finally caught a scent. When Zzandoren realized that, he let it go, too, focused just as fiercely as he on the waft on the breeze. Unusual again, but Ronan had no time to worry about it. Rythri beckoned silently and crept with enviable noiselessness through the light snow. Wishing he could be that quiet-- swearing to himself that he would, someday, even if the time wasn't now-- he followed as carefully as he could.

Though Rythri and Zzandoren both had told him more than once that most hunts turned up nothing-- the trail was old, the prey got away, some other predator got to it first, whatever-- but this one was promising: a good-sized herd of elkariin-- common, not terribly tasty, but fat with their pre-winter gorging and also not too difficult to catch, if you knew what you were doing. The four-footed grass-eaters were swift, but stupid, and better, the three of them could cut the herd when they fled and hopefully bring down one of the six.

The biggest advantage they had over any other kind of hunters was their telepathy. Rythri and Thonyn, their differences of opinion about wolfish behaviors aside, worked remarkably well together, as if they were tightly bonded instead of the loose thing Thonyn maintained. Thonyn relayed Rythri's instructions to Ronan-- it didn't seem like she left anything out, either-- and they circled around the elkariin, downwind but slowly moving upwind. Rythri stayed down-- the one with the most recognizable scent-- Thonyn moved up-- the one the elkariin would be least likely to deem a threat, and the most easily camouflaged with the white and gray everywhere-- and Ronan circled around the herd's other side, taking advantage of the cover and shadow. In his head, Zzandoren was extremely quiet but unusually focused. He frowned, but didn't want to ruin the strategy by asking about it and distracting himself, so he put it out of his mind for the moment, again.

::On Rythri's signal,:: Thonyn said, for once without venom or malice, just expectation and a little excitement. This was only her first time going after something this big, too. ::Keep down.::

Crouching in the shadows, Ronan stared at the herd. One head had gone up as Thonyn's strange scent reached them, then another, then a third. There was a moment before they decided whether to bolt or continue eating on the patch of grass they'd uncovered, and that was when Rythri leaped out of his hiding place, silent and with a now-wolfish tongue hanging out. Signal.

Thonyn dove into action, flanking the now-fleeing elkariin and driving them towards Ronan. He let the fastest two pass, then launched himself between the middle two and the last two, a doe and her yearling fawn which he'd really rather not bring down. Offspring were off-limits, it seemed to him. He did, however, tear after the other two, Thonyn flanking them a little ways ahead and Rythri taking the longer way, on his longer legs, to cut them off.

The chase was almost better than the idea of bringing one down. Ronan hadn't really done a lot of running before-- flat-out, fast-as-he-could, paw-pounding running. He'd done other heart- and lung-strengthening activities, of course, but there hadn't been much cause for running. And it felt marvelous, liberating, almost the way he imagined flying to feel like. That he was doing it in pursuit of something, life and death, whether in training or in earnest, only made it sweeter. Only made it better. Made it better--

--made it--


Ronan veered wildly off-course, tripping on his own foot and tumbling end-over-end as an unexpected, searing pain raced along his nerves. He landed in a heap, gasping and curled in on himself, hugging himself until he realized that the pain wasn't his at all. By that time, the elkariin had all gotten away, and Thonyn and Rythri were closing in on him, the former looking positively murderous and the latter, once again anari-formed, not much better.

::What the abyss, Ronan!:: Thonyn demanded. ::We almost had them! What the abyss! What did you think you were doing??::

"Ronan, what happened?" Rythri demanded, as well, glowering at him. "Don't tell me you tripped on a root or something."

Ronan could hardly hear them through the roaring in his mind, the flood of pain, fury, rage enough to murder anyone and like it, and frantic panic that momentarily threatened to overwhelm him. Both hands to his head, he grit his teeth, clenched his mandibles to his muzzle so tightly that the tusks hurt his nose, he fought against the foreign emotions until the connection suddenly and painfully snapped shut. In the ensuing silence, Thonyn and Rythri seemed far too loud.

::Wasn't a root-- was his own gods-damned foot! How could you be so clumsy, Ronan? Don't just sit there, you bastard, say something!::

"His foot? Are you not taking this seriously, Ronan?"

After a brief panic of his own, making sure he hadn't broken his bond and just blocked it off, Ronan roared at them both to make them shut up. It was a pathetic sort of sound, compared to what sound he imagined an adult would make, but it did shut them up. ::Zzandoren was in the back of my head,:: he explained tersely, and they both stared at him. ::I think he just changed. Dammit!:: He pounded his fist on the ground angrily, making both Thonyn and Rythri jump. ::He only had one more day!::

"He-- he changed?" Rythri repeated blankly. "But-- he'd been doing so well. He didn't even look all... all mad, at breakfast this morning. He hasn't tried to escape once."

Since he didn't feel like repeating himself, Ronan just picked himself up carefully and brushed leaves and dirt from his hide, plucking bits out of his hair and glaring angrily at them as he did. So close-- so close-- and the stupid priest had to "come hunting" with them. No wonder he changed, in the middle of a chase! --Abyss take it, no wonder he was enjoying it so much... he had a damned Hunter in the back of his head, probably subtly egging him on.

Ronan felt obscurely violated. One thing was for sure, he'd bite off his own hand before he let Zzandoren do that again. What could possibly have possessed him? He should have known what would have happened if he'd been part of a chase. No, he had to have known! Damn him.

At moon-set on the fifth day, a whole day and a half later, Ronan stood outside the door to Zzandoren's cell, wings half-mantled and all prepared to give the stupid priest a good talking to. It should have been tricky sustaining his anger for so long, but all he had to do was remember the fierce joy he'd felt at the chase, and he felt ill and defiled again. That certainly did the trick, and the more he dwelled on it, the angrier about it he became. Neither Rythri nor Thonyn, both present as well, were going to keep him quiet this time.

"He's done," the watch-priest at the magic-crystals said, watching an image spread between them that Ronan didn't bother to glance at. "Go ahead and open it."

The deadbolt slid back with a heavy thud, and the latch popped with a clatter. It took a good shove by the second watch-priest to get it open, at which point the first winced and added, "He fell on it."

"Oh. Oops...."

Rythri, skinny dog that he was, managed to weasel his way past both acolyte and dragon to get inside first. "Oh, Zzan," he sighed unhappily on the other side.

::Get out of my way,:: Ronan growled at the acolyte, who held up her hands and backed off, looking a little annoyed but not about to argue with an angry hatchling who, despite being shorter by a few fingers-breadths, still outweighed her significantly. He stalked past her, squeezed through the half-open door, mind all prepared to launch his diatribe at his bonded-- and stopped with a mouth-open, mandible-bared snarl at the bitter, heady scent of blood. Gods, what had happened in here?

He spotted Rythri first, crouched behind the door and trying to get his arms around... well, that had to be Zzandoren, but he was... covered in blood. Furrows from claws, some just barely broken skin but others deep and jagged and still bleeding; sharp teeth-marks on his own flesh; torn nails; blossoming bruises on his face, shoulders, and sides. Gods, the priest was a mess, and he'd left a mess around the room: there was blood on the door, the floor, the walls. Had he done all that to himself?

Rythri's glare was on him, and he finally noted it, starting and staring, back. "Take a good look, Ronan," he growled low and threateningly. "See what being locked up does to him and tell me you want to keep making him do it."

::It was his own fault,:: Ronan protested gruffly, not looking back down at Zzandoren and blocking the bond with all his might. ::He shouldn't have--::

"Shut up!" Rythri yelled. "It's only his second time trying to resist it, how was he supposed to know! While you're feeling all righteous, maybe you should lock yourself up for a week and then see how you feel about it! Maybe you should get bitten and see what it's like, I bet you'd never master it! Maybe you should-- should--"

A bloody hand closed on the anari's shoulder. "Rythri...."

Gulping, Rythri broke off, looking back at Zzandoren, who was remarkably still conscious, with worried eyes. "Let's get you out of here," he said, ducking under the priest's arm, heedless of staining his clothes or of making a mess on the floor, or even anyone watching and whatever they might have thought of him. Zzandoren was just about too heavy for him, and he staggered when he tried standing up with most of the priest's weight leaning on his reedy frame. When Ronan tentatively tried to come up to help, he just got snarled at, and though he bared his teeth in answer, he still scuttled back.

Not far enough back, though, to escape Zzandoren's other hand landing on his crown. I'm sorry, the touch said, as weary brown eyes met his briefly. For forgetting... for not knowing... for.... I'm sorry....

Then eyes and hand fell away, and Rythri was hauling him out of the cell, Thonyn hurrying to take the priest's other side. They both helped him to the next room over where the healer was waiting, Jestin scuttling after them interestedly. Ronan peered after them, cursing to himself that he'd managed to be cornered into feeling bad for his behavior towards his chosen bond... again. Twice in the span of a week. Maybe he was going about things wrong.... 

When Rythri and Thonyn had been shooed away, Ronan crept in and curled up at the foot of Zzandoren's bed while he slept. The healer-priest saw him, but said nothing and slipped out, herself. ::I'm sorry, too,:: he said quietly, chin resting on blanket-covered knees. He fancied he saw a small smile on the priest's face, asleep or not, so maybe the apology was accepted. He hoped so, because he wasn't going to say it again. Still, he had a feeling that maybe finding him sleeping at his feet would say as much, all the same.


Chapter Eighteen - Chapter Twenty


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